by Sally Colby
Groundbreaking ceremonies for a state-of-the-art sustainable resource facility (SRF) at Nicholas Meat in Loganton, PA, took place recently.
Nicholas Meat processes about 600 head of cattle daily from Pennsylvania and surrounding states. Cattle arrive in small lots or by the semi load. Plant waste (food processing residuals or FPRs) is currently approved for land application on farm fields as part of a nutrient management plan. While Nicholas Meat currently monitors water usage and keeps usage below industry standards, the SRF will conserve even more water.
The SRF is an ambitious project, one Nicholas Meat believes will set the standard for sustainability throughout the meat processing industry. Once completed, the project will allow 97% of system inputs and recovered materials to be piped to and from the SRF. The result will be fewer trucks on the road, less fuel consumed, fewer carbon emissions and overall environmental improvement.
Brian Miller, director of sustainability for Nicholas Meat, has a personal interest in seeing the project to fruition – he grew up in the area. “I believe the SRF is ethically and environmentally the most meaningful improvement to demonstrate our commitment to the future,” he said.
The process was initiated in 2015 with a feasibility study. In 2017, Nicholas Meat selected Global Water Engineering (GWE) to design the system. GWE has 40 years of experience in green energy, water reuse and industrial wastewater treatment. Fourteen additional environmental and engineering firms provided input on the project.
“This is the most ambitious project we have ever undertaken as a company,” said Miller. “I know of no other meat processing facility in the U.S. that will bring all the components of sustainability together that this project will. The SRF is comprehensive environmental solution. It will allow our company to reuse water, reduce our dependence on land application, manage odor and generate green energy in the form of biogas.” The SRF features award-winning waste-to-energy technology and an advanced wastewater treatment facility, which will reduce the company’s carbon footprint and decrease dependence on fossil fuels.
Through the process of anaerobic digestion, the system will create renewable energy and capture greenhouse gases and odors, reduce water demand and create nutrient-rich fertilizer. The $50 million SRF project is being funded solely by Nicholas Meat.
The biogas created through anaerobic digestion will be used to power boilers to heat water in the packing plant. Nutrient-rich solids, a byproduct of anaerobic digestion, will have less liquid and smaller volume, which will reduce truck traffic as solids are hauled to nearby farm fields. The advanced wastewater treatment system, similar to a municipal wastewater treatment facility, will maximize reuse of water. “When the system is fully operational, it will remove more than 1,800 pounds per day of nitrogen,” said Miller.
The SRF is across the road from the processing plant, so underground piping will move the waste stream from the plant to the SRF. Treated water will be returned to the packing facility. Any solids that cannot be pumped through the pipes will be trucked to the SRF and received in an enclosed reception building with a negative airflow to direct odors to an odor treatment system.
Site work is currently underway, and the entire construction process will take about 24 months to complete.
In addition to the construction of the SRF, a conservation area will be developed as compensation for the forested riparian buffer and watercourse impacts resulting from the land required for the SRF development. The 12-acre conservation area will be protected with a conservation covenant.
The conservation reserve project is overseen by Cedar Run Environmental Services Inc. “We’re planting a diverse mix of deciduous trees at industry standard planting density,” said Steve Bason, professional wetland scientist. “There will be all types of wildlife there once the site becomes established.” Prior to tree planting, the newly created wetlands will be seeded with mix that includes annual ryegrass, sedges, arrowwood, gray dogwood, silky dogwood, buttonbush and meadowsweet. Tree species include big-tooth aspen, American basswood, black walnut and red oak.
Doug Nicholas, vice president/COO of Nicholas Meat, whose vision and commitment drove the process of the SRF, shared comments prior to the groundbreaking. “It’s about doing the right thing today so we can benefit and enjoy natural resources for generations to come,” he said. “Our commitment to sustainability today is a commitment to the future. The building of the SRF and development of the conservation reserve demonstrate our commitment to a sustainable Sugar Valley.”
Pennsylvania Ag Secretary Russell Redding and U.S. Congressman Fred Keller commented on the project and praised Nicholas Meat for their willingness to commit to a large-scale project that will be a model for sustainable meat processing.
John Painter, Pennsylvania Farm Bureau board member and beef and dairy farmer, addressed those in attendance. Painter milks 400 cows and farms 5,000 acres in Tioga County, and Nicholas Meat is an important resource for his enterprise.
“Pennsylvania is home to 8,800 beef farms and 5,400 dairy farms that also produce beef,” said Painter. “Nicholas Meat is an important market for me and my fellow beef and dairy farmers. What they do and how they do business matters to me. Nicholas Meat enables us to bring the products of the work on our farms to nourish families across the state, country and world. As a farmer, we love the land we call home and the animals we’re entrusted to. Responsibility to care for our environment and our livestock is something we take seriously.”
He added that consumer expectations and demand for safe, quality and sustainably produced beef has never been greater, and the ag community has responded. “Today, U.S. beef cattle produce 31% more beef with fewer resources than just 30 years ago,” he said. “The U.S. also has the lowest emission intensity per pounds of beef produced and has been a world leader in this area since 1996. Agriculture is committed to sustainability, and with the construction of the SRF, Nicholas Meat is demonstrating their dedication to sustainability. The SRF is the model for the rest of the meat industry as it demonstrates continuous improvement and innovation to do better.”